After taking a decisive second-round lead in the U.S. Open on Friday, Dustin Johnson made a beeline for the couch.
“I’m going home to watch it right now,” said the world’s top-ranked golfer, who was unflappable in the lousy weather at Shinnecock Hills and shot 67, his four birdies more than offsetting a lone bogey.
Four under par heading into the weekend, Johnson is the only player in red numbers in this major championship and has recent history on his side. The last four U.S. Open champions have led the field after 36 holes, and that includes Johnson in 2016.
Scott Piercy and Charley Hoffman are tied for second place at even par, and there’s a five-way tie for fourth at one over among Tommy Fleetwood, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, and defending champion Brooks Koepka.
“I felt like today was another really solid round, played really well,” said Johnson, whose signature shot was a 45-foot putt for birdie on No. 7 that took a full 11 seconds to snake to the hole.
“A couple of times I hit bad iron shots, but every time I felt like I was able to save par, at least give myself a really good look at par.”
Par is plenty good in a tournament that can beat up some of the best players in the game. Failing to make the eight-under cut Friday were notable major champions Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Bubba Watson, and — despite four birdies in a row Friday — Jordan Spieth. The 2015 U.S. Open champion was inside the cut line until he bogeyed his last two holes.
After shooting a seven-over 77 in the opening round, Phil Mickelson recovered to go one under Friday to make the cut. He hit 13 of 14 fairways on both days, with the only misses coming on the third hole. So his hopes for a career Grand Slam remain alive, even if he is 11 shots behind.
Mickelson’s problem has been his short game, normally a strength. He said he was heading to work on that after his round.
“I didn’t putt well, didn’t chip well,” he said. “I’m having trouble getting the ball close around the greens. I’m having trouble getting the ball to the hole. … I can’t get it to release up the hill.
“And then once it gets to the pin, it goes away, so I don’t want to go past, and I’m just leaving everything short. Same thing putting. So I’m going to have to be a little more aggressive around the greens, trying to get the ball to the hole.”
Whereas Thursday was clear and warm but windy, Friday was cooler and wet in the morning, with rain spitting sideways. The clouds parted in the afternoon, giving players with later tee times an edge.
The scoring average was 75 through two rounds, every hole was double-bogeyed, and 12 were triple-bogeyed or worse.
Fleetwood and Koepka shot brilliant rounds of 66 Friday, matching the low score here in 2004, the last time Shinnecock played host to the U.S. Open.
“Just a couple of putts make all the difference really sometimes,” said Fleetwood, who one-putted seven times and had five fewer putts Friday (30) than in his round of 75 the day before. “And … you hole a couple of nice birdie putts, and you walk off with a 66.”
The collapse came on No. 8, because Poulter’s group started on the back nine. After a tee shot in the fairway, his approach plugged in the right greenside bunker. He bladed his sand shot about 30 yards over green and into the deep fescue. It took him two shots to get out of that tall grass, then he barely got the next one to hold on the green. A two-putt later and his three under had dwindled to even par.
That triple bogey was a painful reminder of how quickly a good round can unravel, especially in a tournament in which small mistakes can snowball easily.
“When you’re out of position on this golf course and, you know, you’re trying not to make another mistake, and another mistake … it just looks really stupid,” said Poulter, who ended his day with a bogey on No. 9. “So yes, I felt stupid knifing the first one [out of the bunker]. I felt even more stupid semi-chunking the next one, and I didn’t do much better the next one, either.
“So maybe it makes a few people happy out there that we kind of mess up just as good as, you know, everyone else. We’re human, right?”
But Poulter, who in the past has struggled to keep his emotions in check, was sanguine about his position, even in light of his bumpy finish.
“I’m one over par in a U.S. Open,” he said. “I’m not sure how else to look at it. There’s only a couple of U.S. Opens that, if someone offered you that on a Wednesday, where you perhaps wouldn’t take it, right? So, I’m right in it.”
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer